Center Stage’s production of Stones in His Pockets is a rocking good tragicomic two-man show that is made all the better for its brilliant acting, staging and direction. The unique and poignant play was written in 1996 by Marie Jones and received two Lawrence Olivier Awards and a 2001 nomination for a Tony Award for Best Play. Derek Goldman, Artistic Director of the Davis Performing Arts Center and a Professor of Theater at Georgetown University, directs the production. Goldman’s direction seems to strike a healthy balance of lively good fun mingled with a dose of honest reflection that gives the play a joyous but ever-so-lightly bittersweet quality.
The play is set in a small rural village in County Kerry, Ireland that has been turned upside down by the arrival of a Hollywood film production crew. The central characters are a pair of lovable pub flies, Jake and Charlie. Clinton Brandhagen plays Charlie Conlon and Todd Lawson plays Jake Quinn, both actors are Broadway veterans who do a masterful job in their portrayals that require much more dexterity than do most traditional stage roles. Much of what gives the play an interesting twist is that Brandhagen and Lawson play all 15 characters, both male and female. They utilize voice and switching gender with a studied deftness while employing the barest minimum for costume changes, often by just adding or removing a hat or by changing posture or the position of a garment. Their characterizations are so seamless and smooth that it’s hard to imagine any two actors carrying off this feat with any more finesse or with a greater sense of humor.
Center Stage is a jewel in the heart of Baltimore’s Mount Vernon historic and cultural district and conveys all the luster of a well-loved landmark dedicated to fulfilling its mission to the community it serves…If there is a theatrical pot of gold at the end of the leprechaun’s rainbow, surely this play is it.
Like most of the villagers, Charlie and Jake are employed as extras for the filming (at 40 quid a day!) and are initially energized by the presence of the film crew and enchanted by the prospect of bigger and better things. Charlie aspires to have his script made into a film while Jake, recently returned from a stint in the States, becomes the object of interest of Caroline, the unattainable, self-absorbed American film starlet. The film crew’s disinterest in real Irish life versus their Hollywood version of Irish culture is at once comic and somewhat sad. You feel a genuine sympathy for the locals through Brandhagen and Lawson’s portrayals, who, after the novelty of being a part of something big wears thin, realize that they are being misused.
The callousness of the film crew is palpable in their reluctance to let the extras have a break for the funeral of a local lad whose suicide is brought about by the presence of the Hollywood film crew. You can feel the core values of the village juxtaposed against the values of Hollywood and Brandhagen and Lawson do an artful job of contrasting the two worlds effectively through their nimble characterizations. Their delivery and timing were spot-on and flawless. The audience interacted with the performers well and freely and at times became the extras and the townspeople that led to becoming more than just an audience.
Center Stage is a jewel in the heart of Baltimore’s Mount Vernon historic and cultural district and conveys all the luster of a well-loved landmark dedicated to fulfilling its mission to the community it serves. I can see why it is nominated for Best Theatre Company for the 2013 MD Theatre Guide Readers’ Choice Awards! The set design shows the type of polish and attention to detail that one expects from a Center Stage production and conveys the setting effectively, never getting in the way of the actors but creating the proper mood and theme through creative design and props.
If there is a theatrical pot of gold at the end of the leprechaun’s rainbow, surely this play is it. This show is definitely worth the price of a ticket; it’s a fresh, rollicking ride through an Irish village’s dynamics in the shadow of Hollywood and is well worth coming out to see.
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission.
Advisory: This play contains adult content.
Stones in His Pockets runs through February 25, 2014 at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert Street Baltimore, MD 21202. Tickets are available at the box office or click here.